The first computer code Warren Falk ever typed filled the screen with one color. Then, it changed to another color.
After that, Falk learned a code that made a stick figure run across the monitor.
From there, the 8-year-old was hooked.
“Then I said, ‘What if you change this, what does it do? Or if you change that, what does it do?’ And every time it was more interesting,” Falk said. “Or, it didn’t work at all, and I had to figure out why.”
These days, Falk, now 43, is the head of engineering for Divisions Maintenance Group, a Cincinnati-based tech company that provides facility maintenance for more than 100 commercial customers around the country. But in his heart, Falk is still that 8-year-old boy – hoping for a rainy day so he’ll have an excuse to stay inside and experiment with code.
“To me, software is like Lego where you never run out of bricks,” he said. “It’s fascinating to me.”
He chose … a facility maintenance company?
It might seem counterintuitive for a technology wonk to work for a facility maintenance company, but Falk was drawn to DMG by the opportunity to build something completely new. The maintenance industry is not known for its tech savvy, so the role was essentially a blank slate. Endless possibility.
Falk was admittedly nervous about the job at first, but once he started, he quickly realized DMG was the best place for him. There was no red tape, so it was easier to innovate. And while Falk was only the company’s third engineer when he was hired in 2013, his team now has closer to 50. The company’s goal is to hire another 100 engineers in the next year alone. And another 100 the year after that.
“I had a little anxiety coming in, that this doesn’t sound like a technology company,” Falk said. “It’s facilities maintenance. For a tech engineer, on the surface, that doesn’t sound super sexy at all.
“What kind of technology and engineering goes into managing facilities maintenance? That turned out to be quite surprising.”
DMG is building revolutionary managed marketplace technology, completely transforming the facility maintenance industry, said Kumar Srinivasan, DMG’s chief product officer. As head of engineering, Falk is “leading from the front,” Srinivasan said.
“We have a great opportunity to not only build great products but to change the way the industry operates overall,” he said. “It’s rare to get an opportunity to revolutionize an industry, and we are doing it.”
A chance to solve problems
Falk is responsible for much of the technological architecture used by DMG, but his overarching goal in his work is simple: “I just want to make great stuff.”
He tells his team he wants “decentralized collaboration.” That means unity, but not by central authority. “When you need to blaze a new trail, blaze it,” he told his team in a recent email. “Trails that are successful can be shared, accumulate their own tools, and become new patterns.”
When it comes down to it, what Falk really loves is solving problems, especially when it makes a tangible impact on the company or someone’s life.
DMG has a virtual job board, for example, where technicians can pick up work customers have requested. Falk’s team has to figure out how to engineer that board so the work gets picked up quickly by a quality technician without breaking the bank for the customer.
It’s all about creating the most efficient systems possible, Falk said. He likes it because these are problems that are never truly solved all the way. No matter how good a product is, he can always try to build something even better.
‘From there, I was hooked’
Falk’s very first computer was a Mattel Aquarius with a Z80 processor. His grandfather won it in a raffle and didn’t know what to do with it, so he gave it to Falk’s dad.
Falk’s dad didn’t know what to do with it, either, so he gave it to Falk.
“A friend of my dad’s came and showed me how to set it up, and once he did, I just started to learn everything there was to learn about it,” Falk said. “From there, I was hooked.
“I didn’t even realize that ‘software engineer’ was a legitimate profession until halfway through high school. That’s when I realized, ‘Oh, people will pay you to do this? That’s definitely what I want to do.’”
Falk is self-taught as an engineer. He joined the U.S. Army after high school as a signal support system specialist – basically the “radio-fixer guy” – but he was quickly moved to headquarters once his superiors realized he could type. Then they realized he could fix printers and set up databases, too, so that became his job.
After the Army, he landed an engineering job and worked several others, including a stint as a freelancer, before signing on with DMG eight years ago. He never thought he would work any one job for eight years, let alone with a facility maintenance company. But he has no plans to leave.Not while there are so many interesting problems to solve.
About Warren Falk:
Hometown: Jamestown, New York
Current residence: Cincinnati, Ohio
How he spends his spare time: He does a lot of engineering in his off time, too, including tinkering with a 3D printer and embedded software development.
When he’s not around a computer, he enjoys playing tennis, singing (he used to sing in an ‘80s cover band) and teaching himself to play the keyboard.
Favorite day with DMG: The No Rules Pinewood Derby. Falk built a car with two CO2 canisters that would automatically deploy when the race gate opened.